The Unhealthy Mistake You Might Be Making When Cooking Pasta

A plate of pasta a day keeps the doctor away! Wait, that's not how the saying goes... But maybe it could. Imagine a world where you get to indulge in daily pasta dishes without putting a strain on your health. Che bella, no?

The typical Italian eats a lot of pasta, and statistics back this up. According to U.S. News and World Report, the average individual in Italy puts away 50 pounds of pasta per year, while the average American consumes just 15.5 pounds annually. However, 44.2% of U.S. men and 48.3% of U.S. women are obese, compared to Italy's 14.4% and 13.7%, respectively (as per Wellness Corporate Solutions).

So, dai! Out with it, Italy! What's the secret? According to a 2017 study published in Nutrition Today, people following a Mediterranean diet — like those in Italy, France, Spain, and Greece — have healthier hearts, less chronic disease, and slimmer waistlines. This may also be why obesity is not as common in these regions of the world.

Eating like an Italian

Americans who are trying to lead a healthy lifestyle typically lean toward high-animal-protein/low-carb diets, like paleo or keto. The Mediterranean diet is mostly plant-based and incorporates plenty of pasta, beans, fish, fresh produce, and healthy oils, as is detailed by the National Health Service (NHS).

Perhaps equally important to what you're eating, however, is the amount you're eating. Your favorite local Italian joint in the States likely comes to the table with heaping piles of cheesy fettuccine. U.S. News World and News Report suggests that the actual recommended serving size is 2 ounces of dry pasta or 1 cup of cooked pasta. 

When speaking with The Daily Meal, Valentina Cecconi, the head nutritionist for Buitoni Pasta — a woman who spends her days at the company's product development center in the hills of Tuscany — suggested that the culture of Italian eating is healthier, too.

"The communality of the meal is a crucial part of a balanced diet. It helps us enjoy food in a more frugal way," Cecconi told The Daily Meal. "We sit down and eat together. Even if I have no one to eat with, I set the table and make a moment for myself. Food is never rushed."

All about the ingredients

There's no denying the divinity of a good creamy alfredo or a rich ragu, and you should definitely still enjoy those things from time to time. If you're looking to adopt a daily pasta diet, however, you'll want to emulate Italians when it comes to cooking. 

Keep ingredients simple and fresh by shopping in season. As is detailed by Food Safety News, Italians are pretty staunchly opposed to preservatives, so you'd be hard-pressed to find asparagus around Thanksgiving. Seek out what is locally grown and typical to your current season. Enhance classic pasta dishes with protein-packed beans or seafood, fresh herbs, and healthy vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and garlic (cooked in oh-so-brain-healthy extra virgin olive oil). It's lighter, more balanced, and nutrient-dense — your belly and your body will thank you!

If you've been shunning carbs in the name of health, we're here to tell you — no more! When done the right way, this is one of those have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situations.